As a librarian and an archaeologist, I've been fortunate to be involved with a fascinating computer project in Greece over the past several years. Although many Greek libraries have had automated systems for some years now, several of the specialized foreign libraries in Athens have been slow to enter the online world.
More than 2 decades ago, I studied at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, and like many other alumni, I've continued to use its excellent Blegen Library (a major archaeological research facility') nearly every summer. However, the lack of the online access that we are accustomed to in the U.S. had been making the experience in Athens increasingly frustrating. Both researchers and librarians seemed to be rooted in the 19th-century practices of painstaking, methodical print research. In fact, most of the foreign archaeological libraries have resisted change in any form, especially in electronic form.
But more recently the Blegen Library has been leading the way in implementing a shared online catalog. In my role as an advisory member of the Blegen Library Committee of the American School, I've witnessed the slow transition from the "beloved" old catalog cards to a new and still "unloved" online system. As a colleague of Blegen head librarian Dr. Nancy Winter, the instigator of this project called ARGOS, I've advised and encouraged her for the past few years. I've seen the project grow from an improbable dream to a complex undertaking and finally to an operational reality. This article describes the ARGOS project, which is allowing for great strides in archaeological research.
ARGOS: The ARchaeological Greek Online System
The ARGOS system is a combined online union catalog for 14 different archaeological libraries with 14 different classification systems in 10 different languages: Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Italian, Norwegian, and Swedish (see the sidebar). Four countries-Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden-are part of the combined Nordic Library; several other libraries use English, German, or Greek as base languages.
Together, these special archaeological libraries in Greece hold more than 500,000 titles covering a range of subjects including archaeology; art history; ancient, medieval, and modern Greek history; literature and languages; topography; ethnology; and folklore. Now, thanks to ARGOS, readers worldwide will have access to this tremendous bibliographic database for the study of ancient, Byzantine, and modern Greek civilizations. In the very near future, there will be access to the bibliographic citations for materials in all foreign libraries through ARGOS.
While participants were designing the union catalog, the multiplelanguage problem was obviously difficult to surmount for several reasons. Most archaeologists prefer to publish research in their own language, unlike scientific research, which is invariably published in English. These specialized archaeological publications are rarely if ever translated. Although all the languages in the project except Greek do use the Latin alphabet, the wide range of accent marks they employ made programming extremely difficult.
Coordinating the cataloging and classification systems of 14 different libraries was a far more difficult hurdle. These specialized archaeological libraries had developed their own unique systems over the last century, and few of them used standard AACR2 rules or Library of Congress subject headings. The American School's Blegen Library is one example: "The classification system for this [Blegen Library] specialized collection was devised in 1904 by the then-director T. W. Heermance with letter-designations to indicate general subject (B = history) and subdivisions for more specific subjects (BX = Roman history)."2
Therefore, consortial undertakings were a true challenge and in fact were rarely attempted. As a result, searching ARGOS is still somewhat idiosyncratic. …